By Tommy Gagliano
On November 18th, 2019 at 7:30 PM, Binghamton University College Republicans hosted an event in Lecture Hall 8 titled “Trump, Tariffs, and Trade Wars.” The event featured world-renowned economist Dr. Arthur Laffer. According to College Republicans President John Restuccia, the purpose of the event was “to educate students on campus about free enterprise and limited government.”
Four days prior, on November 14th, College Republicans set up a table on the “Spine” to advertise the event. Turning Point USA also set up a table next to them, to advertise their club and try to recruit new members. This “tabling” was not approved beforehand by the Student Association. They were met with extreme backlash, as a crowd of hundreds gathered to scream at them, insult them, and damage their property. You can read more about the situation in “Leftist Mob Harasses Conservative Students at BU.”
In the four days between the two events, Binghamton University College Progressives, Frances Beal Society, and other left-wing clubs spread the word to outside organizations, to get as many people as possible to disrupt the Art Laffer event. A few hours before the event was scheduled to take place, College Progressives posted an advertisement on their Instagram for a protest of the event. It told people to meet at Lecture Hall at 7:15 to “show up, speak out, and disrupt.” A description on the advertisement read “College Republicans and Turning Point have invited Arthur Laffer, an economist / liar whose theories have been used to justify tax cuts for the rich, and raised on the poor. Fuck this & them.” They later deleted that image and posted a new one, with the time changed from 7:15 to 6:45, the word “peacefully” added before “disrupt,” and an updated description that removed any mention of College Republicans (the actual organizers of the event) but left Turning Point, and removed “Fuck this & them.” Turning Point USA was not affiliated with the event in any way. Images of the two advertisements can be seen below.
Tons of people arrived to the event well before it’s scheduled 7:30 start time, and as soon as the doors opened the room was filled to the brim with students. Most of the seats were full, and a number of people were standing in the aisles on either side. A lot of people that wanted to attend the event were not able to, as the room was at maximum capacity. An administrator made an announcement that standing in the aisles is a violation of the fire safety code and that all students standing must find seats. In response to this, a few students who were already sitting got up and walked to the aisles. A man walked through the back two rows handing out candy bars, saying that they were “energy for the revolution.” Some people in the audience were wearing black face masks (like the ones that dentists wear) and red arm bands. University Police stopped letting people in when the Lecture Hall room reached capacity. A student was permitted by the police to re-enter after he briefly left. College Progressives Vice President Dheiva Moorthy took exception to this, and yelled “fuck you” at the officers.
The event began with an introduction from John Restuccia. He thanked everyone for coming, explained that there would be a question and answer section at the end of the talk, and asked that everyone please hold any questions or concerns they may have until the end. He introduced Dr. Laffer, who was only able to thank the audience and make a joke about the weather before he was interrupted by a protester. He stood up and made a comment about the “violence” caused by the Trump administration, which was met with thunderous applause. Another student brought him a megaphone, which he used as he continued to yell at Laffer. UPD attempted to handle the situation, but they were greatly outnumbered by protesters. As more protesters began to yell and the situation became more rowdy, UPD escorted Dr. Laffer and the event organizers out of the Lecture Hall through the basement.
Protesters continued to loudly tell stories of people that had, in their view, been harmed by the Trump administration. A frustrated student asked “what does this have to do with tariffs?” and was immediately screamed at by multiple protesters. This happened whenever anyone asked how their protest was relevant to the event, or expressed their anger over not being able to hear Dr. Laffer talk. A female protester can be heard on video yelling “I’m talking, right? This is my freedom of speech, right? You cannot interrupt.”
The protest continued for over an hour, with chants of “no justice, no peace,” “who are you protecting?” (which was aimed at UPD), and “if we don’t get it, shut it down.” It eventually moved outside, where a speaker was set up and protesters were talking on a microphone. It was revealed here that many of the protesters were not even Binghamton University students. In addition to BU clubs such as College Progressives and Frances Beal Society, members of outside organizations such as PLOT (Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow) and JUST (Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier) also turned out in large numbers. The microphone was passed around and protesters shared their complaints about everything from the school’s administration, to the president, to Christopher Columbus.
Harry Markov, a freshman majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance, was disappointed he was unable to hear Dr. Laffer talk. “When I received an email that the renowned Dr. Arthur Laffer would be presenting at Binghamton University’s campus I was very excited to hear him speak,” he said. “Having read his book, ‘Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy,’ I wanted to see what Dr. Laffer had to say about the current economic climate. I was particularly interested to hear his opinions on the Trade War with China.” Unfortunately, Harry wasn’t even able to get into the room where the event was set to take place, because so many protesters had filled the room before he arrived. However, he stayed at the Lecture Hall to see what was going on, and became entangled with the protesters. “I was talking with some of the other people who were disappointed the initial event had been canceled when I was told to be quiet and respect what they, the protesters, were doing. I explained how I had a right to talk to whoever I wanted and that’s when I was surrounded by a group of protestors who all linked arms around me. They claimed this was for my protection however, I don’t see what I need[ed] to be protected from considering I was just standing there observing their protest. In fact, I was told, by what I assume is one of the protest leaders, that if they hadn’t linked arms I ‘could be on the floor by now.’ As I stood there I was told to go home if I didn’t want to be surrounded and that I was choosing to be surrounded however, I just remained calm and stood my ground.” Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a similar experience. “As an SOM student, I attended Dr. Laffer’s event this evening to listen to a world renowned economist speak about economic theory and his famous Laffer curve,” he explained. “Unfortunately, less than five seconds into his speech, it was disrupted by a large group of students yelling. Their interruptions had nothing to do with economics and they completely outnumbered the people who were there to actually attend the event… my friends and I were yelled at by many people for simply ‘being stupid white boys.’”
“This was an embarrassment for Binghamton University, which failed to protect conservative students’ right to free speech,” stated College Republicans President John Restuccia. “Instead of immediately removing the disruptors, the university escorted Dr. Laffer out of his own lecture. We were forced to stop our event while violent protestors continued to behave recklessly. Binghamton University’s support of the heckler’s veto violates our constitutional rights. Young America’s Foundation is exploring all legal remedies to do what Binghamton University failed to do–protect the First Amendment.”
Binghamton University quickly responded by condemning the protesters in a statement sent out to students by email. Vice President Brian Rose, who sent out an email in support of the protesters last Thursday, stated that the University is “incredibly disappointed with the events that happened.” He explained that the demonstrators were given space to protest in the next room over and were allotted time at the end to ask questions, but that they “chose instead to infringe on the expressive activity of others and to prevent those who wished to hear the speaker from doing so.” He said that there is an investigation into organizations and students involved that may have broken laws, and that the University “reserves the right to pursue appropriate charges or disciplinary action.” He concludes by stating “As an institution of higher education, freedom of speech is fundamental to our core mission; academic inquiry and the exchange of ideas rest on the principle that all have a right to express their beliefs.”
Two individuals were arrested by UPD during the protest.
Footage of the situation is available on the Binghamton Review YouTube channel: